The Way We View Sex Work Is All Wrong
Why are we allowing the ultra-conservative to determine society's moral compass?
I came up with the title of this post before I had any clue what the post was going to be about. That’s how I write sometimes, title or idea first, research second, finally point and conclusion.
While researching the way society views sex work and sex workers, I came across an article from The Spectator. After I had finished reading the article, I had to ask around and Google to see if this was actually just an ultra-conservative publication or a satire site, a la The Onion. Apparently, it is the former.
The article I speak of was just recently published and titled “Most ‘Sex Workers’ Are Modern Day Slaves” with a subtitle of: “Prostitution is rarely if ever a choice” written by Julie Bindel. Um. Excuse me? Ok, I get that this a very conservative news outlet, but come on. Comparing prostitution to slavery is just another patriarchal attempt at aiding in the media’s heavy hand in sensationalizing human-trafficking.
Bindel bases her opinion that prostitution is slavery (she refuses to call it sex work as “rebranding” it as sex work allows us to believe it is a legitimate way to earn money) on the fact that she “investigated” prostitution for three years, conducting 250 interviews with SEX WORKERS and 50 with “survivors of the sex trade” (I wonder how she defines “survivor of the sex trade”? According to her, all sex workers are victims or survivors of the sex trade, right? How did she distinguish between the two in her investigatory process if the two are one in the same?)
She claims most everyone she spoke to told the same story; that the “Happy Hooker” is a myth. Most of the sex workers that she interviewed made claims that they had drug or alcohol problems, had a history of childhood physical abuse, and they all live in poverty or were otherwise marginalized. These victims are in trouble and they desperately need help, screams Bindel. These people cannot possibly be free or empowered. Abused and trapped. What can we do to help them? She never defines a clear solution or calls for action.
Just to even the playing field, I took a look at another study that had approximately the same sample size. I took a look at a study conducted by Leeds University. You know, an academic study. Not some random journalist “interviewing” random sex workers. This study suggests that sex work is actually highly nuanced. There seems to be a public debate on the sex worker dichotomy: they are either the poor victim or the happy hooker. The fact is that most sex workers are somewhere in between.
Sex workers come from all walks of life. They live widely different lifestyles and have various reasons for getting into the sex industry and various reasons for staying in it. And while human trafficking does exist, it’s not to the extent that the media portrays it. In fact, an article from The Independent that uses the Leeds study for their article “The Majority Of Sex Workers Enjoy Their Job – Why Should We Find That Surprising? says that over half (52%) of sex workers said they could leave the job if they wanted to, with less than a 1/4 saying they did not feel like they had a choice. The research also could not draw any affirmative conclusions to the childhood abuse claim.
What’s clear here is that we need to recognize sex work as legitimate work and acknowledging its diversity is crucial. We can’t pigeonhole sex workers. To do so is dangerous and frankly insulting.